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Longines - Interview with Walter von Känel

Longines Interview with Walter von Känel

In between trips to China, the 75-year-old CEO of Longines found time during Baselworld to talk to WorldTempus about the 2017 Longines collection.

You launched a major new breakthrough in quartz technology, the Longines Conquest VHP (Very High Precision) just before Baselworld. Tell us why.

Just to give you a bit of context, I never abandoned quartz and around 20% of our sales comes from watches with quartz movements. In my 48 years at Longines I have followed the entire evolution of quartz technology. In 1954 we had this magic box (the Longines Chronocinégines), which we developed under pressure from the international sports federations, who wanted better timekeeping accuracy. By 1964 miniaturisation led to a table clock and we launched our first quartz watch in 1969, more or less at the same time as Seiko. Later Seiko came with their twin quartz and I put pressure on our engineers to come up with something better, which led to the first VHP models in 1984.

To develop things further, and to avoid going down the smart watch route, I invested considerably in new quartz technology with ETA three years ago. We have an accuracy of +/- 5 seconds per year, a great anti-magnetism protection and a crown that is so easy to use, plus five years of battery life and 5 ATM water resistance and a perpetual calendar that will remain accurate until 2400!

There were two main reasons for developing this new quartz calibre. On the one hand I wanted super precision and on the other I wanted to combat public enemy number one as far as watches are concerned: magnetism. It can come from your mobile phone or a ladies’ handbag and can ruin the accuracy of your watch. With our new system, the hands simply disengage in the event of high magnetic interference and automatically readjust to the correct time once the interference has passed. 

Interview de Walter von Känel

What was the reception for the Conquest VHP after its launch and here at Baselworld?

The most positive thing for me is that it fills a gap in the product range of my biggest customers. Around half of my sales come from Mainland China, where customers are only interested in quartz movements at the entry level. And with a retail price of 950 Swiss francs the new Conquest VHP is perfectly positioned here.

What are your other highlights at Baselworld?

One thing people tend to forget is that we have two exclusive movements at Longines, the A20 and the A31, which allow us to produce 25mm diameter watches. We developed it ourselves together with ETA. The A20 is an evolution of the ETA 2000 calibre but we produce about 400,000 of them per year. We produce a similar quantity of the A31 and this year we have decided to introduce silicon balance springs for the first time, in both the men’s and women’s models. These movements are produced in-house at Longines, where ETA has a production cell of 250 people working exclusively for Longines.

Furthermore, because of a strategic decision taken by the Swatch Group, all movements containing silicon produced by the group are COSC certified, so you can now buy a Longines chronometer with silicon components for less than 2,000 Swiss francs.

In order to avoid confusion with existing models, we have launched a new collection called Record that will use these new movements. It is actually named after a factory that belonged to us but which closed down some years ago. So far it has been well received and I’m quite confident that I will meet my sales objectives.  

Interview de Walter von Känel

How is business?

We had a good start to the year. Figures were down a little bit last year but not as bad as the average for the industry. But I am extremely careful about inventory levels and make sure that these are controlled. I also only show at Baselworld what I can actually sell, and we discuss our new launches in advance with our Chinese customers, who are now actually looking for slightly larger diameter watches. I can see from the order book that the preference is shifting from 38.5mm to 40mm for gents watches, for example, and from 25.5mm to 29mm for ladies watches – all mechanical. The last time I was in China I even had customers asking me when their diver’s watches would be delivered, which is a good sign for us.

The brand

Today Longines is the oldest brand still in business, unchanged, in the international registers held by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The firm has a long tradition, characterised by the elegance of its watches.

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